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The Red Bird River Shelter (15CY52) Revisited: The Archaeology of the Cherokee Syllabary and of Sequoyah in Kentucky

  • Jan F. Simek (a1), Beau Duke Carroll (a2), Julie Reed (a3), Alan Cressler (a4), Tom Belt (a5), Wayna Adams (a6) and Mary White (a7)...


This article reanalyzes petroglyphs from the Red Bird River Shelter (15CY52), a small sandstone shelter in Kentucky. In 2009–2013, it was claimed that some of the carvings at the site represented the earliest known examples of Cherokee Syllabary writing, dating to the first two decades of the nineteenth century. It was also suggested that Sequoyah, the Cherokee artist and intellectual who invented the Cherokee Syllabary in the early nineteenth century, had made these petroglyph versions during a visit to see his white paternal family living in Kentucky. Our reanalysis categorically contests this interpretation. We do not see Cherokee Syllabary writing at Red Bird River Shelter. We do not believe that historical evidence supports the notion that Sequoyah had white relatives in Kentucky whom he visited there at the time required for him to have authored those petroglyphs. We also believe that this account misrepresents Sequoyah's Cherokee identity by tying him to white relatives for whom there is no historical warrant. We argue that the Red Bird River Shelter is a significant precontact petroglyph site with several panels of line-and-groove petroglyphs overlain by numerous examples of modern graffiti, but there is no Sequoyan Syllabary inscription there.

Este artículo reanaliza los petroglifos de un pequeño refugio de arenisca en Kentucky, el Red Bird River Shelter (15CY52). En 2009–2013 se afirmó que algunas de las tallas en el sitio, que datan de las primeras dos décadas del siglo XIX, representan los ejemplos más antiguos de escritura con el Silabario Cherokee. También se sugirió que Sequoyah, el artista e intelectual Cherokee que inventó el Silabario Cherokee a principios del siglo XIX, hizo estos petroglifos durante una visita a su familia paterna (y blanca) que vivía en Kentucky. Nuestro análisis impugna categóricamente esta interpretación. No vemos escritura con Silabario Cherokee en Red Bird River Shelter. No creemos que la evidencia histórica respalde la idea de que Sequoyah tenía parientes blancos en Kentucky o que los haya visitado en el momento requerido para que estos petroglifos hayan sido escritos por él. También creemos que este supuesto tergiversa la identidad Cherokee de Sequoyah al vincularlo con parientes blancos para los cuales no hay evidencia histórica. Argumentamos que el Red Bird River Shelter es un importante sitio de petroglifos de precontacto, con varios paneles de petroglifos de líneas y surcos cubiertos por numerosos grafitis actuales, pero sin inscripciones en Silabario Sequoyah.


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American Antiquity
  • ISSN: 0002-7316
  • EISSN: 2325-5064
  • URL: /core/journals/american-antiquity
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